Ever since Summit Entertainment announced early this year that Catherine Hardwick, director of the movie Twilight, was not going to direct the sequel New Moon but instead a movie adaptation of another YA novel called If I Stay four months before the book even hit the shelves, the two books have been inextricably connected. Both Summit Entertainment and book reviewers alike have contrasted the two novels despite the fact that they could not be any more different from one another than say, apples and oranges or in this case, immortals and mortals. Whereas the Twilight saga brings readers into the fantastical realm of vampires and werewolves, concepts that have only metaphorical relevance to the average person, Gayle Forman’s If I Stay throws readers into a very real-life situation we all must eventually deal with: death.
In the vein of Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel The Lovely Bones (2002), Forman’s If I Stay is told from the perspective of someone in limbo. The narrator is not quite dead, but she is certainly not among the living, and from this unique perspective has the ability to unravel her story through a semi-detached remembrance of things past. Seventeen-year-old Mia finds herself in this situation after a horrible car accident takes the lives of both her parents and leaves her in a coma. She can witness the things going on around her immobilized body—visitors, doctors—and quickly discovers that she alone is the one who can decide to live despite her massive loss or to join her family in death.
Forman’s characters are both lovable and pragmatic. Mia’s middle-age punk-rock parents, who gave up a life of rock n’ roll excess to raise their two children, and Adam, Mia’s faithful indie-rocker boyfriend, are beautiful, believable characters that resonate well with readers. Mia explores each person in her life through events that they have shared, from cello concerts, to punk shows, to intimate family moments.
Mia’s self-exploration and literal life and death decision will keep you guessing and engrossed. Not once does the novel succumb to a contrived sense of sentimentality. If I Stay is a wholly poignant and heart-wrenching novel that will be treasured for ages to come by adults and teens alike.
Marie Hansen-Lehmann is a Young Adult Librarian and writer in New York City. She has reviewed books for School Library Journal and has a blog about YA lit, librarianship, and sometimes music called The Cupcake Witch. To know what she was like as a teenager, look for her personal essay in the pop-culture anthology Cassette From My Ex (St. Martin’s Griffin) hitting the shelves this October. www.cupcakewitch.blogspot.com